Zero Space: Morality, Literalism, and the Politics of the City
Since the rise of scientific inquiry in the 18th Century and the subsequent death of the Godhead as architecture's primary subject, architecture continues to believe that the espousal of the subjective self is the end game of its criticality. Ostensibly this would seem to be false, as the rise of“urban” strategies and the touting of beautiful yet meaningless information provide the superficial illusion of meaning. This is the precise moment in which architecture manifests its umbilical ties to popular culture and casts its last breath into the surf of capital flow, taste, and style. In fact, any strong reaction to such a didactic aphorism as “ Architecture is wrong” is proof-of-concept that the profession has been reduced to advertising; supply and demand make everything viable, and architects just gloss it and package it to be consumed. What of our ability to conceive space? Is there nothing outside of the image in the magazine? Where is our moral standing?
Art in America in the 60’s suffered from the same conceit. Abstract expressionism and the popularity of the hero artist (i.e.Pollack , de Kooning, Gorky, et al. in Life Magazine in the late 40’s and 50’s) led to a homogenization of art through multiplicity. What is worse, historians and critics, relying on rhetorical compartmentalization, eliminate the vicissitudes of the artists philosophical “work” but also hegemonically ensure that it is in their best interest to abandon any such contrarian difference if they wish to remain successful.In the following decade, the rise of Minimal art was attacked as an abstraction of theatricality that marks the death (or suspension) of subjectivity in that it was too formally reductive, too conceptually rigid, and its meta-limits too well defined to resonate. This critique is misplaced in its paradox of juxtaposing bombastic presentation with intellectual rigor, parading the former as the latter. These critiques on the work itself constitute an acute and comprehensive grasp of the singular cultural shape of the work, while the ability to understand form as Minimal art presents it, is conspicuously absent. It is through a bold reconsideration of the Minimalist projectthat an argument can be made not only for a return to morality in architecture and the city through reestablishing a role for dogma, but show that such work offers an escape from the didactic subject‐object relationship that plagues modern perceptions of space. Minimalism offers an autonomous definition and understanding of space and material that has been prematurely abandoned in favor of the spectacular technocratic of “progress” producing nothing more than additional distractions, additional substitutions, and additional theatres of complicity which further entrench us in a perception of reality which is not our own. Instead, it ensures the things we see are consumed in the way they areprogrammed to be. Minimalism offers an alternative; the way in which we see can be manipulated to free us from constructed meaning. In other words, if the desire to critique things as consumable objects, and it is impossible to create a work that is not consumable, then how we consciously see (and that active sight is a choice) is the most primitive, most forgotten, and most liberating act of autonomy. This liberates the artist from the narrative and places in crisis the existence and need of meaning‐as‐such.
This research, however, is not a defense of the popular image of minimalism; the crafting of reduction into a style has resulted in a vacuous form of pretentious elegance. Instead, it posits that the return to the formal simplicity is not a stylistic operation, but a radical act of morality that is uniquely American. European minimalists were preoccupied with anthropomorphic identities and parenthetical readings of compositional hierarchies. American Minimalism, through formal restraint, abandoned these projected meanings, and instead presented the qualities of very complex spatial problems in an accessible way in which the artist was absent.It was not the art object itself that was created, but its context was rendered anew. For the first time in history, the work disappears entirely. The emptiness of the physical work reveals the fullness of true space. It is through this research that I believe a new city can emerge, based not in the large scale curating of architecture as cultural artifacts, but in the production of space that facilitates the autonomy of a culture crafted in its own likeness.